By Patrick Rosario – AfricanBrains
Whether they were charismatic leaders, thinkers ahead of their time, musicians, or athletes, over the course of history, many Africans have taken the world by storm.
These amazing people have done things that forced the rest of us to take notice. Though it is impossible to choose the most important of these men and women, here are ten amazing Africans who have made the world stand in awe.
No list of influential Africans would be complete without the inclusion of Nelson Mandela. Born in South Africa in 1918, Mandela made it his life’s goal to fight against his country’s policy of apartheid.
He joined the African National Congress in 1944, and later organized the militant wing of the ANC in 1961. For this, he was arrested in 1962 and sentenced to life in prison.
During his many years there, Mandela’s reputation grew by vast amounts. He became the most important black South African leader, the symbol of the anti-apartheid movement.
He was released in 1990, and a year later was voted as the President of the ANC. He used this position to accomplish his goal of abolishing apartheid, which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. In 1994, at the first multi-racial elections in South Africa’s history, Mandela was selected as his country’s first black president.
President Goodluck Jonathan
With a name like that, how could he not be influential? Born into a family of canoe-makers, Jonathan obtained several post secondary degrees, including a Ph.D. in Zoology, and worked in education and environmental protection before going into politics.
He was raised to the position of 14th President of Nigeria after his predecessor, President Umaru Yar’Adua, died on 5 May 2010. Jonathan finished out his term of office, then ran for re-election and won in 2011.
Why is he considered one of the most influential Africans? Well, running the richest, most populous country in Africa certainly helps, but he has also acquitted himself well in what is a complex and powerful position, helping the country keep its status as the most successful democracy in Africa.
In 1986, Mr. Soyinka became the first African to win Nobel Prize in literature. He has written numerous plays, novels, and works of poetry, and held teaching positions at several African, European, and U.S. institutions of higher learning, including Obafemi Awolowo University, Cornell, Loyola Marymount, Oxford, Yale, and Harvard.
But perhaps he is most well known for being a civil rights activist and speaking out against a number of totalitarian African regimes. Over the years, he has met with leaders to avert civil wars, endured prison times, and once even had to escape from Nigeria on motorcycle when a dictator proclaimed a death sentence against him.
Born in Ghana in 1938, Kofi Annan is a diplomat best known for serving as the United States Secretary General from 1997 to 2006. He has spent most of his life working for the United Nations, and was the co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 for his help establishing the Global AIDS and Health Fund to help people with the disease in developing countries around the world.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Sirfleaf became the President of Liberia in 2006, making her the first elected female head of state in Africa’s history. She was re-elected in 2011, the same year she won the Nobel Peace Prize for her role in fighting for women’s rights and building peace through her country and continent.
One of just a few African billionaires, this Sudanese business moguls has shown a great desire to promote democracy on his continent and foster effective government. He has even gone so far as to start up a foundation to monitor the African Heads of States and reward them for good governance.
The Rupert Murdoch of Africa (but without the dark underbelly), Nduka Obaigbena is founder and chairman of This day and Arise, two of Africa’s most widely read periodicals. In a time when globalization is allowing American culture to dominate around the world, Obaigbena has managed to succeed by crafting a distinctly African voice in his media ventures, helping the African culture to spread out in the world consciousness.
Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe is best known for his first book, Things Fall Apart. It was notable because it is the first fictional book to ever show African village life from the perspective of an African. It is the most widely read novel in African literature, making Achebe a very influential figure worldwide.
Yes, that’s right, Charlize Theron. Many people forget that the Oscar winning movie star is also South African native, but in Africa in general – and South Africa in particular – her fame is a point of pride. But that alone wouldn’t be enough to land her on this list. Ms. Theron also stands out by founding The Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping Africans suffering from HIV/AIDS and building a life that is healthier and safer for children in need all across the continent.
A renowned Nigerian economist, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is considered one of the most influential women in the world today. She is the current Finance Minister of Nigeria, and has also served stints as a Managing Director at the World Bank. She has been instrumental in improving Nigeria’s economic position in the world.